What’s a Recruiter, anyway?

The basic definition of a recruiter is a professional whose job is to fill job openings. More importantly, however, is the distinction between an internal recruiter and an external recruiter.

The Difference between Internal + External Recruiters.

Full disclaimer: I’m an executive recruiter myself and own an executive recruiting firm. However, in the past two decades I have held (literally) every position in this industry, and my advice reflects the variety of knowledge I’ve gained. Given that, let’s move on with the definitions of internal vs. external recruiters.

External Recruiters: External recruiters work independently and are hired by companies (AKA, clients) to fill specific job needs as they arise. My profession and my firm is known as an external recruitment firm or a headhunting firm.
Internal Recruiters: Internal Recruiters, on the other hand, actually work at the companies they recruit for. HR departments, talent acquisition and corporate recruiters can all fulfill the function and definition of an internal recruiter.

The External Recruiter Advantage

It’s my sincere belief that external recruiters bring a unique perspective both to the companies they work for and the jobseekers they work with.
The nature of our work requires us to have a competitive view of both job seeker trends and industry landscapes. Because of this, both companies and jobseekers frequently reach out to me to ask for job market intelligence.

Usually, people at companies are too busy keeping their heads down and working to keep track of exactly what their competition is doing, or even who that competition is. But we track it all the time, and by doing so, find out amazingly pertinent information, like:


  • Who the high-growth companies are
  • Who’s starting to dominate the industry by bringing an innovative product, service or technology to market
  • Who’s disrupting the market
  • Who is failing, antiquated or laying people off
  • Upcoming Mergers and acquisitions
  • Executive management changes
    Cultural shifts
Information that’s especially of interest to job seekers includes…
  • Who’s paying the most and how much they’re paying,
  • Which unique skills and expertise are in demand,
  • Where a job seeker’s current company fits into the mix.

Even crazier? I often get this information before it goes public! You might be wondering how external recruiters get this kind of intel. If an external recruiter has a great reputation and strong professional relationships, decision makers and professionals in leadership positions trust them with these types of industry insights, because it helps us do our job better.

Furthermore, most external recruiter’s talk to at least 10-15 market insiders a day. No one else in the market (not even internal recruiters) can hope to come close to this level of contact with professionals in powerful positions. That’s why smart employers and candidates tap into external recruiters frequently, and you should too.

How External Recruiters Get Paid

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that external recruiters are paid by the hiring company. That means we work for the company first and foremost. Of course, we work for jobseekers as well, but our main goal is to find the qualified candidates our clients need. That’s why it’s so important you find the right type of recruiter, because only an external recruiter whose client base aligns with your experience and skill set will be a good match.

So let’s talk money for a moment. Recruiters make a percentage of the new hire’s starting base salary, typically 20-25 percent. For high-end retained search firms, the cut may go as high as 33 percent, but that’s generally for very senior roles (VP- or C-Suite).

Why Recruiters Have a Bad Rap

I’ll be the first to say it: sometimes external recruiters get a bad rap, and oftentimes they deserve it.

Why? A lot of external recruiters operate like brokers, treating people like a commodity. They’ll try to convince professionals to consider jobs that aren’t what the professional really wants, or attempt to get them to accept a lower salary than what they deserve. They won’t develop a relationship with the professional because they’re too swamped with candidates that they don’t have the time or energy to devote to a meaningful, strategic relationship. Their MO is to send as many resumes as possible to their clients as possible, as fast as possible, hoping someone sticks. If the “throwing spaghetti against the wall” analogy was just triggered in your brain, you’re correct.

These are NOT the external recruiters you want to work with.

How to Find the Right External Recruiter for You

Simply put, it’s easy to do a Google search and find a recruiter that’s in your industry. But where do you start when it comes to actually communicating with them? I cover this and much more in my FREE email course, Dream Job Toolkit.

You’ll also learn…
  • The insider secrets about the Hidden & Public Job Markets that nobody’s told you—but that EVERY savvy professional should know about.
  • The fundamental tactics that will help you leverage your job search to make more $$$$—no matter what your industry or job title currently is.
  • How to use social media platforms you are ALREADY familiar with in order to tap deep into your network to generate job leads (which is much larger than you currently think it is)!
  • How to take advantage of the ridiculously undervalued power of external recruiters—while also avoiding the wrong kind.
  • Step-by-step instructions on how to communicate with professional allies—yes, I even include scripts!